Robin fixed, once again, the hood that covered a good part of his head and face.
He and Much had just completed another round between the houses and the shops of the village of Clun.
There were still so many individuals and families to be added to the list of recipients for aid deliveries, and the numbers were becoming bigger.
Robin was becoming increasingly aware that the life of the inhabitants of the County of Nottingham got worse, he could see how much their life became difficult. He saw their suffering, and their desire to overcome the difficulties in spite of everything, but he couldn’t always read the hope in their eyes.
This fact made Robin, with his infectious smile and his warm and compassionate eyes, very sad.
He would tell many things to King Richard, as soon as possible, when he’d return to England.
And King Richard, the valiant King for which he, Robin, had fought fiercely for years, since he was very young, would put an end to that situation, certainly.
The return of King Richard would bring justice to Nottingham. And justice would bring prosperity.
Robin believed that with all his heart.
For the people, it was just a hope, for Robin it was a warm certainty.
He felt lucky to have met the King in person, and he had admired his courage on the battlefield and his determination to find a way to end the holy war.
Robin hoped for peace, now. He had seen so much blood, too much blood, shed by the soldiers from both armies.
He wanted to forget that blood, but he could still feel it over himself, on his own skin.
Robin never told anyone about it. Not even Much, who had seen and lived at his side the same experiences, and who certainly would understand.
And if he did, once he had shared the pain, what could he do? To get completely numb with women and wine in a tavern?
No, Robin preferred not to waste time, and tears, talking and brooding about his suffering.
It was better to act.
He was a young man of action, in action he felt good, he felt strong. The danger urged him to think of solutions, including creative or insane ones, to escape. And, after all, this was funny too.
Nottingham, the castle, his guards, were nothing compared to the real war on the battlefield, Robin thought.
The important thing now was to gain some time, acting in the interests of the people, easing their physical suffering.
He had to give them hope, and, in the process, to discover and hinder, one by one, Vaisey and Gisborne’s intrigues.
Gisborne had unworthily usurped his feud and his home, until the return of the King.
Then everything would be as it was before the war, Robin thought: he would be back, really, and finally, at home.
The return of King Richard would also be the end of Marian’s forced engagement to Gisborne, Robin was sure.
He had admired how Marian, despite Gisborne’s blackmail, was able, with a simple sentence, to keep him at bay, procrastinating the wedding.
“I will become your wife the day the King will return to England.”
Marian had been good, cunning, even in a difficult situation like that.
When he thought of that inauspicious day, when Allan’s brother and his comrades were hanged and he couldn’t prevent it, and Marian had been forced to be engaged to Gisborne, he felt guilty.
Nothing had gone the right way that day.
All about timing.
He didn’t arrive in time to prevent the execution (and Vaisey, in his cruelty, had been brilliant to anticipate it), and he didn’t arrive in time to give the necklace to Marian before Gisborne came to her house. She had to show it to Gisborne at the last second, when the damage had already been done, so she didn’t hand to Gisborne only a silver necklace, but the golden keys to blackmail her and to force her to give in to his brutal will.
That day everything had gone bad, and Marian’s, Allan’s and his own lives had been changed.
Robin remembered his attempt to kiss Marian, in those days.
The girl had rejected him, yet to him, Marian’s look, her sinuous movements, the playful sparkle in her eyes, had made it clear that he could hope to regain his place in her heart.
He thought it was only a matter of time.
Robin was rediscovering a different Marian from the girl he had left behind five years before, and this Marian, the way she had changed, was something that fascinated him and, at times, she worried him.
He didn’t understand her, sometimes. He could hardly understand her. But he was fascinated by her, and he wanted to win her heart back.
He didn’t want to share with her just the same purpose to prevent injustice in Nottingham. He wanted her kisses, her caresses.
He wanted her.
And Gisborne was trying to take her away.
It had been a few days since Robin had seen her, and he was beginning to worry. He had asked Will to scout ahead in Knighton, for news, while he completed his round in Clun with Much. He saw him coming, at that very moment, to the place where they set their meeting. He raised his arm to tell him to approach: there was no danger in the air, if they talked discreetly.
Will had a very tense expression, he looked concerned.
“Robin,” he said, “there are Gisborne’s guards in front of Marian's house. The neighborhood said that they had already been there for a while. None of the neighbors could tell me why, but they are all very nervous about this situation. The guards are there night and day, and none of the neighbors saw Gisborne. It’s strange Robin, it's weird. Forgive me, I should have gone closer and maybe I should look inside the manor, but I was alone and…”
Robin interrupted him, shaking his head.
“No, you did well, going alone would have been too risky, go back in the forest and join the others. Later we will decide what to do.”
Will went away, and Robin began to walk towards Knighton. Much hurried to follow him and once he reached his master, he talked to him.
“But Robin, shouldn’t we go into the forest now? The direction seems wrong.”
“No, the direction is right, we’re going to Knighton,” Robin said, and Much’s eyes widened in surprise. “Aren’t you thinking to go and see Marian now? Will told you that it was dangerous to go alone!”
Robin smiled slyly, while accelerating, effortlessly, his pace.
“For one person, yes, but now we are two, right?” He winked. “We'll manage fine. They are just Gisborne’s guards, it’s like the house is unguarded, they’re useless... Let's go, I'm really curious to know what happens there.”
Robin was right. It hasn’t been difficult at all to climb to the window of Marian’s room, despite the presence of the guards at the entrance of Knighton Hall.
It had been more difficult to silence the constant doubts and concerns of Much, who was hidden in the bushes, ready to intervene at the slightest sign of danger.
Robin leaned inside the window, and what he saw in her room almost made him lose his balance.
Gisborne, that bastard, was sleeping in Marian’s bed, while the girl was sitting next to the bed and she had fallen asleep, an embroidery in her hands, resting her head against the headboard.
Robin tried to remain calm, and he took from his pocket the only thing he could use to attract the attention of the girl, a coin.
He took aim and hit the hand of the girl, who woke up with a start.
Marian opened her eyes, disoriented.
She saw Guy in the bed, still and asleep, and, looking in front of her, she saw Robin, who was standing in her room and looked at her, his arms folded.
Waiting for an explanation.
‘I didn’t need this too, now,’ Marian thought.
The girl stood up and said: “Follow me, in silence.” Robin looked at her with a scowl, but he followed her into the next room, where there was nobody.
Marian closed the door.
“What is he doing there?!” Robin said at once, as soon as she turned to look at him. “What? Did he lose his way home and then he got in your bed?”
Robin's eyes had become dark, demanding.
He wanted an answer.
“Did you give a good look at him, Robin? Didn’t you see that he’s hurt? Gisborne is injured. Seriously. He can’t be moved yet,” Marian said.
“I saw, I saw. It wasn’t a good reason to slip into your bed, Marian. And how did he get injured? Stumbling disastrously in his own spurs?” Robin pointed out the sentence with a mocking smile, wondering how Guy might have been injured.
“No,” Marian said, “of course he didn’t, Robin, he fell under the hooves of a horse. He’s been badly trampled.”
Her expression seemed angry and worried at the same time. A strange mix in which Robin could see anything but indifference to his enemy. And that worried him.
“And you charitably welcomed him here? Wasn’t there a way to bring him back to Locksley? Look, Marian, we’ll do it. I’ll send a message down to Much and he’ll arrange a comfortable, perhaps, wagon to send him back to Locksley. Nay, with the help of the gang we might even deliver him in Nottingham and unload him right there, at the entrance of the castle.”
“What’s the real problem, Robin? The fact that he is here, or the circumstance that he is in MY bed? I do not think this is the problem, or is it, Robin?”
“Marian, calm down, let’s not fight. Just tell me what's going on,” Robin said, recovering, with some difficulty, the control of his nerves and of the situation.
“I told you what is happening: Guy is hurt, badly. He can’t be moved for the time being. He must stay here. And we must take care of him.” Marian sighed gravely, raising her eyes to heaven, underlining the seriousness of the situation and also how much it annoyed her.
“Why here, Marian, why?”
“Because he has been injured here! Because he was chasing the Nightwatchman right here near my home!”
“Was he after the Nightwatchman? Marian, Gisborne has perhaps discovered you? You are in danger: if he knows anything, I have to make sure that he doesn’t speak, that he can’t denounce you. I have to silence him. Forever”
Marian looked at him in amazement.
“Do you want to kill him, Robin? Would you really kill in cold blood a wounded man who is unable to defend himself? Do you really think that? My God, Robin! No, this isn’t you. Anyway, Guy doesn’t know that I am the Nightwatchman!” Marian sighed, as if she had many other things in her mind.
Robin calmed down, but something in the attitude of the girl was more and more strange, suspicious. And, above all, why was she calling Gisborne by his first name, with such confidence?
“Well, then he can successfully continue to be the lackey of the sheriff, if he survives to his injuries,” Robin said. “You look strange, Marian. It could be that you are tired, it could be the burden of having him in your house, but it seems that something is annoying you. Is it me? I'm just here to help, I'm sorry if I've lost my temper. Talk to me, please, Marian.”
Marian looked at him, and, sighing, she told him that for the time being there was nothing he could do, and they had to wait and see how the events would develop. She told him that, as soon as possible, she would go to see him. She drew a shy, but confident smile, and waited for Robin, reluctant to leave her in that situation, to go away.
Taking the decision not to seek help from Robin, Marian had thought that it wasn’t the place, and the time, to tell what she had discovered about Guy. And perhaps it wasn’t even the case.
It was true that Guy didn’t find out who the Nightwatchman was, but Marian had discovered Guy’s horrible secret.
A regicide, in her bed there was a regicide.
Under her roof.
The worst kind of murder.
Almost like killing God, in the eyes of Marian, in the eyes of the world.
She was betrothed to a regicide.
It horrified her.
It made her feel sullied, too.
She knew that she couldn’t bear the look on Robin's face if she told him the news.
Who knows what he would say knowing that she was to be the bride of a regicide. The look of compassion. And anger. Unbearable for her.
And at the same time she had to prevent Guy from getting near the King again.
She should report him, now that she knew, and it didn’t matter how she had known. The expression of pain and confusion on Guy’s face didn’t matter either.
She could denounce him.
But there wasn’t a King to do so, he was far, away in a distant land.
And she didn’t like Robin's attitude about the Nightwatchman.
Reporting Guy to him might be fatal, for Gisborne.
But she could not trust anyone else: who knew how many others had collaborated to Vaisey’s plan in some way, either actively or keeping the silence? Maybe they were the same ones who had favored his rise to the role of Sheriff of Nottingham.
No, there was no one to tell, apart from Robin, without risking both her and her father’s lives.
But at the same time, Marian felt that it was just as dangerous to denounce Guy to Robin.
He could decide to take justice into his own hands, or maybe he could capture Guy and hold him prisoner in the forest for who knows how long, waiting for the return of the King.
Guy couldn’t survive to an imprisonment, not now, Marian thought.
If Guy should recover, she’d talk with him, she’d convince him of his fault.
She had fantasized the scene in her mind. She’d find a way, with him.
It would be difficult, but she would try.
Yes, she’d try.
Maybe Guy himself would confess his crime to the King, on his return to England.
She’d convince him to do so: Guy would kneel before the throne of the King, and he would ask for forgiveness, and mercy.
Yes, she’d persuade him, and Guy would do it.
Maybe with her at his side.
She would kneel next to Guy to plead for his cause, and perhaps the King, the just King who Robin always described to her, would pardon him.
Or he would condemn him.
But at least she’d have done for Guy everything she could.
No more guilt, among them.
It wouldn’t be, at least for this, her fault.
As it had been her fault that forced him in his sickbed...
In a corner of her mind, there was the terrible thought that probably, if Guy would heal, he couldn’t be able to try another attempt on the King's life. He wouldn’t be the weapon of a murderer anymore.
As the hours passed, Marian had seen Guy lying and suffering in her bed, clinging to her, with his words, his panting breaths, clinging to her as if she was the only one who could help him.
Everything in him had screamed for help, from her.
Marian couldn’t betray him.
She wasn’t a traitor.
And she wouldn’t be like Guy, Marian repeated in her mind, but she would try, at least, to help him.
The girl shut the window that Robin used to leave the house: she was alone again, to face the man who was lying on her bed.
She was alone, to face Guy.